Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Thomas the Marvellous: Resurrection and Living-Death in Blanchot and Nancy

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Thomas the Marvellous: Resurrection and Living-Death in Blanchot and Nancy

Article excerpt

Toward the middle of the night, Thomas gets up and goes downstairs without making any noise. (1) Unnoticed save by an almost blind cat, a most strange feline undergoing transformation, which lets out howls and proceeds to deliver a diabolical monologue, Thomas goes on to dig the earth, preparing a great ditch, about his own size. With a stone strapped around his neck, he throws himself into this grave. This most banal of summaries attempts to capture the beginning of Chapter 8 of the first version of Thomas the Obscure, Blanchot's first novel. Considered by many as Blanchot's most important narrative and one of his most significant texts, Thomas the Obscure, begun in 1932, delivered to the publisher in May 1940, and published in 1941, was until recently only available in a much more truncated form, known as the new version, authorized by Blanchot, and published in 1950. The source of renewed attention, particularly by Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy, this original version has been available since 2005, having been published after Blanchot's death. (2) Nancy, who devotes two chapters to Blanchot in one of his recent books, La Declosion, provides a most powerful interpretation of Blanchot's work in a provocatively-titled chapter, "Blanchot's Resurrection [Resurrection de Blanchot]." (3) In this chapter Nancy uses several pages from Chapter 8 of Thomas the Obscure to put forward an interpretation not simply of death, dying, and resurrection in the novel, but also to present an overarching reading of Blanchot's work in general. This interpretation should be read alongside a number of texts written by Nancy in the same period, many of which are also collected in La Declosion, devoted to a reconsideration, or deconstruction, of the major tenets and motifs of Christianity. Of particular importance is a short text, Noli me tangere (published a few months before the Blanchot essay in April 2003), in which Nancy, while discussing how a host of classical painters have depicted the famous scene from the Gospel of John and the "resurrection" announced in it, embarks upon a bold interpretation of the notion of resurrection. "Blanchot's Resurrection" may form part of a more extensive text devoted to Blanchot, if we were to believe Nancy's suggestion that a study examining the theological or "theomorphological" topics in Blanchot's writings would be necessary (137).

"Blanchot's Resurrection" was first presented at the Centre Pompidou in January 2004 at the opening of a cycle of talks organized by Christophe Bident bearing the same title. (4) Even though resurrection does not constitute a major term or concept in the work of Blanchot--and this would be Nancy's major interpretive move--he claims at the beginning of his essay that resurrection is "indissociable" from death and "dying [mourir]." In fact, it forms "the extremity and truth of dying." Nancy's aim in this essay is to distinguish "ressusciter les morts" from "ressusciter la mort." The difficulty of adequately rendering "ressusciter" in English needs to be pointed out here: since in French the noun la resurrection is never used as a verb, everything hangs on how one interprets and translates "ressusciter la mort." To resurrect the dead (ressusciter les morts), Nancy explains, would be to bring them back to life, making "life reappear" where death had put an end to it. This is nothing but "a fantastic, miraculous operation [une operation prodigieuse, miraculeuse]" involving a supernatural intervention in the laws of nature (135).

The phrase "fantastic [prodigieuse], miraculous operation" is no doubt an allusion to the Preface of the Phenomenology of Spirit, where in paragraph 32 Hegel discusses "the tremendous power [die ungeheure Macht]" of the negative and the role of death. This "tremendous power" ("la puissance prodigieuse," in Kojeve's translation [540-41]), Hegel writes, is "the energy of thought [die Energie desDenkens]." Attaining a separate freedom, this "non-actuality," or death, as Hegel calls it, is of all things "the most dreadful [das Furchtbarste]" and "to hold fast to what is dead requires the greatest strength [Kraft]. …

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